It’s mind-boggling to learn about the constant outpouring of COVID-19 relief efforts coming from grassroots groups and caring individuals in Buffalo. We’ve posted on a number of people and groups that have rallied behind the medical mask-making effort, but there is one newfound organization that is going beyond the call of duty – Buffalo Resilience.
Buffalo Resilience is the brainchild of Phil McNamara, who launched the mask making network about a month ago. When asked what drove him to do this, he said, “I moved to Buffalo from NYC four years ago. When I lived in NYC, one of my best friends ran a clothing upcycling facility – it was a guerrilla effort that kept clothing out of landfills. He did this to raise funds for his friend who was in a car accident. The money went towards spinal cord research. The effort involved logistics, communications, networking, contact and information gathering, data collection, etc. I learned a lot through that effort.”
McNamara went on to say that when it looked like COVID-19 was going to be a pandemic, he reached out to a local doctor friend in Buffalo to see how he could help. His doctor friend told him to “stay away”, but if he could figure out a way to get masks to people, that would be helpful. It was then that McNamara sprang into action, using a lot of the information that he had learned from former rallying efforts in NYC.
“When it started, I had no idea what it would turn into,” stated McNamara. “It began with reaching out to people in the restaurant industry, where I used to work (McNamara is now studying to be an addiction counselor). I started asking for donations, but there were no donations at the time – everyone was already tapped out. It was then that I decided to start making masks. I began by creating a hub – a place for people to go – www.buffaloresilience.com. People that I reached out to were coming up with all of the resources that were needed to make the masks… I just needed to bring all of the resources together. That’s when Eric Winstanley, co-owner of Custom Covers and Canvas in Niagara Falls got onboard to help me with the production side of things. His team has helped in cutting material for us. They also own a company that makes dust protector face masks – they are now selling these masks at a reduced rate and have agreed to donate a portion of all sales back to #BuffaloResilience. With all if this help, it was apparent that we needed to scale the process. We had to procure the fabric, cut the fabric, access cutting machines, design a pattern, and create a kit. Everyone had a part in the process to make it all work. I just needed to bring it all together… the pieces were all there… everyone wanted to help.”
Once all of the people and the components were in place, McNamara and his team set out to make two different types of masks – N600 masks that are essentially medical grade (different medical centers have different rules and regulations about accepting them), using materials that were purchased thanks to a GoFundMe crowdfunding effort. There was also another component that saw volunteers sourcing materials from their homes (bedsheets, towels, etc.) that were then stitched into forms and made into non-medical grade masks that could be used by people who were not directly on the front lines.
To date, 1388 masks have been constructed and donated, and 800 more are in production. McNamara has been busy making kits, creating instructional diagrams and videos, and getting the masks out to those in need. And there are a lot of people in need, many who reach out through social media channels including Facebook.
For the volunteers, making the masks has been a welcome distraction, said McNamara. They are happy that they can be helping the cause, instead of sitting around the house in an anxious state of mind. There are also a handful of drivers distributing the kits. “We can’t supply these masks quick enough – we’ve also started making 3D printed face shield kits,” stated McNamara. “People are coming from every direction looking for them. It’s all part of trying to flatten the curve. We don’t want the gap in the supply chain to fail. Eric and I are driving this, but the community is steering where this is going. This effort speaks so much about Buffalo. I also think that we could use this system to coordinate in disaster relief in the future, whatever that might be – the homeless, the opioid scourge… but lets’ get through this first. I’m astounded but not surprised that this relief effort has been so successful so far. What I’ve learned about this city over the last four years is that it is very resilient.”